Those of you who know me personally know that I like to move fast.
That can mean embarking on a climbing expedition overseas; reading three books from the time my airplane ascends from Logan Airport until it lands at LAX; or having my hand in several passion projects at once (I’ve actually started and run 19 businesses, with Trilix being my 19th!).
It also means that when I encounter process or system challenges in business, I go crazy. Compelled to stop the insanity, I immediately challenge my team to tackle the inefficiency, eliminate the bottleneck or address redundancy. But even the most well-meaning, well-intentioned business leaders can get stuck in the chaos of broken systems and incomplete processes from time-to-time.
When I was CEO of Atrion, a 33-year-old Rhode Island-based IT services company that was acquired by Carousel Industries in October of 2016, we were committed to driving efficiency, innovation and transformation back into our clients’ environments by helping them make the right technology decisions. But many times, helping our clients innovate and improve came ahead of addressing our own challenges. Sound familiar?
In 2000, we launched our maxtime™ Managed Services offering, Atrion’s signature support service. The offering was immediately met with massive success but as this part of our business grew, our existing process for managing maxtime™ contracts became cumbersome. Because IRS rules stipulate that we couldn’t recognize all the revenue at once, it meant we had to find a way to divide every contract that came in over a 12-month period. The problem? Our accounting system didn’t do that natively.
What that meant was we had to manage our maxtime™ revenue by way of spreadsheet, with one member of our finance team spending upwards of 16 hours a month doing nothing but calculating our maxtime™ deferred revenue before we could complete our corporate P&L statements. Recently, I sat down with members of the finance team at the time and asked them to trudge down memory lane with me to get their thoughts on this situation. Here’s what they had to say about the insanity:
“There are so many things in finance that we end up reducing to a spreadsheet because that is our comfort zone, but when you get to a certain volume and size in business—which is a good problem to have, you can outgrow a spreadsheet type of environment.” – Marianne Caserta, then CFO
“Because there was so much manual work, you fell into the trap of spending 90 percent of our time building the spreadsheet, and only 10 percent of the time reviewing and analyzing it. If we could have had software that allowed us to push a button and access the data, we would have been able to instead spend 90 percent of our time analyzing the data and trends, instead of becoming Excel jockeys.” – Pete Abreu, then Director of Finance
For more on “chaos,” you may like Randy Jackvony’s blog “When ‘Good Enough’ is Not Good Enough.”
In addition to the internal constraints this process placed on our team, it presented a host of other issues like the fact that one single mistake in data entry could make a HUGE difference in our end-of-month numbers. It also brought about practical concerns, like what if the person manning the spreadsheet wanted to take vacation (I used to shudder at that thought!). Perhaps most importantly, instead of finance adding value back to the organization, the team got stuck in “run” mode, churning numbers and tethered to the dreaded spreadsheet.
As business leaders, all too often this can become our reality—even when we profess to be an organization driven to transform. That’s because we are busy! Busy serving our end users and external stakeholders, almost always ahead of our own employees. In our case, building custom software to address this challenge would have meant taking billable engineers who were on client projects off those assignments.
But as heads of departments, or members of the C-suite, we have to move fast and be agile—not allowing our existing processes and systems to derail our ability to move swiftly. In fact, one of the core reasons I launched Trilix was to help business leaders move faster by tackling process and system challenges.
Stay tuned for my next blog in which I go into greater detail on the reasons for starting Trilix!